BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU coach Ed Orgeron likes to say that the football program under his direction is "all about the ball."
For him, that means protecting the ball by minimizing risk on offense and aggressively trying to take it away on defense.
So far, so good.
Fifth-ranked LSU was the last Football Bowl Subdivision team in the nation to commit its first turnover of the season last weekend and is plus-8 in turnover margin thanks to six interceptions and three fumble recoveries. That has allowed an LSU squad with some relatively unimpressive numbers in other areas to nonetheless win its first four games and climb 20 spots in the AP Poll heading into Saturday night's home game against Mississippi.
"We do things all the time with the ball," Orgeron said on Monday. "We start practice every day with ball drills. Our defensive guys try to strip the ball from our offensive guys. In camp, rookies protected the ball while the varsity guys tried to get it out."
Florida is the lone SEC team with a better turnover margin at plus-10, but unlike LSU has turned the ball over more than once. Kansas is the only other team nationally to lose only one turnover. LSU's turnover margin is tied for fourth in the nation.
"All of the coaches stress about us not turning the ball over," said senior running back Nick Brossette, who had a costly fumble on the first play of last season's upset loss to Troy. "So far, we are doing a good job not turning the ball over."
Brossette said protecting the ball has become almost second nature.
"I don't think about not fumbling when I am in the game," Brossette said. "Ball security is one of the biggest things, but I have to worry about my assignments and not about fumbling."
The Tigers are averaging 31 points per game, which ranks better than only three other Southeastern Conference teams.
But the Tigers' only turnover this season season in last week's 38-21 victory against Louisiana Tech when quarterback Joe Burrow lost a fumble after he was sacked.
Victory For LSU ✊🏼 pic.twitter.com/LS2Pd2YOQe— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) September 23, 2018
Ball security has been one of LSU's strengths since Orgeron took over for Les Miles four games into the 2016 season.
In Orgeron's 25 games as LSU head coach, the Tigers have played an entire game without a turnover 13 times.
The Tigers committed an LSU-record low eight turnovers in 2017 — and two of those were the result of interceptions by backup quarterback Myles Brennan. Starting quarterback Danny Etling threw just two interceptions last season. Burrow has thrown 106 passes without an interception this season.
Meanwhile, the Tigers defense forced 18 turnovers last year — 12 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. LSU is on a pace for 27 takeaways this regular season.
"Coach 'O' says all the time that it's all about the ball," said safety Todd Harris, who made nine tackles in his first career start against Louisiana Tech. "We go out there trying to get turnovers every day in practice. We've got to get the ball back."
Takeaways set up two of LSU's five touchdowns against Louisiana Tech. Cornerback Kristian Fulton forced a fumble which was recovered by linebacker Devin White, who returned the ball 29 yards to the Bulldogs' 3. That set up one of Brossette's touchdowns.
After Saturday's game, there have now been 5⃣ @LSUfootball running backs under @Coach_EdOrgeron to rush for 💯 yards in a game!@darrelwilliams_ @DhaSickest @_fournette @NBrossette @Clydro_22 pic.twitter.com/4vjWtnQleH— LSU Football Recruiting (@LSUFBrecruiting) September 24, 2018
Later in the first half, safety Ed Paris intercepted a deflected pass at Louisiana Tech's 28. On the next play, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for a touchdown. Linebacker Jacob Phillips returned an interception 45 yards for a TD in the season-opening victory against Miami.
Phillips, like a number of teammates who've apparently gotten the message, is quick to echo Orgeron's refrain that it's "All about the ball."
"Coach 'O' says it all the time," Phillips said. "The offense wants to keep the ball and it's our job as a defense to get the ball."